Hong Kong-Singapore Travel Bubble in the Works

Deal inked for reciprocity between the two cities . . .

Hong Kong and Singapore have reached a preliminary agreement to set up an air ‘travel bubble’ that will allow leisure travel between two of Asia’s major aviation hubs to resume in the coming weeks. The agreement will enable travellers, regardless of the purpose of their travel, to bypass the required 14-day quarantine as long as they test negative for COVID-19 and fly on designated carriers. Although Singapore has already made special travel arrangements, including green lanes and short-term air travel passes with certain countries and regions, this less restrictive agreement would be the first of its kind for both cities, which have kept their coronavirus incidences low. The two sides will announce the official start date and other details in the coming weeks.

A significant step, but impact remains questionable . . .

Hong Kong’s most recent tourism data – down 99.7 per cent year-on-year – shows that one of the city’s four key industries is still in a severe pandemic-induced slump. Although the travel bubble would be a significant step towards reviving air travel and a boost to the cities’ broader economies, many are questioning whether the impact will be significant. With fewer than 500,000 citizens from each territory travelling to the other in 2019, Singapore and Hong Kong do not rank very high as each other’s most popular travel destinations. The majority of Hong Kong’s tourists come from Mainland China, and the border between them remains closed. Trip costs will also be significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels as passengers will have to take multiple coronavirus tests before boarding. Airfares also soared immediately after last week’s announcement.

A possible model for replication?

Other countries and regions will be eagerly watching how Hong Kong and Singapore carry out the travel bubble plan and whether it can be a model for similar arrangements in the future. Similar proposals have been put forward by other countries but were halted due to new spikes in COVID-19 cases. One key policy issue relevant to other countries, including Canada, is how flights will be allocated among different airlines. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific accounted for almost half of the 3.8 million flight seats between Hong Kong and Singapore last year but has just announced an unprecedented workforce cut. Major players like Cathay will be eager to take advantage of this much-needed boost.